Maybe you’re making it to the gym, but you simply cant get yourself excited for the dreaded “Leg Day”. You aren’t alone. Benching, curling, dumbbell rows–all that good stuff gets fun real quick. Squats? Not so much. Whether it’s due to the size of the muscles, the fact that we probably use are legs in day to day tasks way more than our pecs and lats, or the all too common knee aches and pains associated with leg workouts, leg day is pretty unpopular–and very tempting to skip. Unfortunately, neglecting “leg day” is a surefire way to negatively impact your overall gains at the gym.
Why Bother with leg exercises?
If you aren’t an athlete and are just working out to look good at the beach, you may be tempted to neglect your legs. After all, having huge legs doesn’t necessarily make you look that much better, so what’s the point?
The point is this: not only do certain lower body exercises also contribute to upper body “beach muscle” development; working large muscle groups such as the quadriceps, hamstrings, and glutes, has been shown to significantly increase serum testosterone levels. That’s a benefit to your overall physique that you’re missing out on if you skip leg day.
4 Ways to Work Your Legs
So you’ve decided to incorporate more lower body work into your routine. How can you do it effectively? We get it, legs aren’t fun to work out (for most people), so instead of bombarding you with many options we’re going to give you our four favorite leg exercises so you can get in and out of the gym on leg day as fast as possible.
These four exercises are comprised of the two core lower body exercises, the squat and deadlift, along with two assistance exercises that are easy to master and help round out your leg workout as simply as possible: leg extensions and hamstring curls.
One of the “Big Three” lifts (along with Bench Press and the Deadlift) The squat is the ultimate leg workout. Working the quads, hamstrings, glutes, and entire posterior chain, squats are a crucial mass builder for your legs and contribute to upper body bulk as well. Because it’s such a complete lower body muscle crusher, you may even be able to get away with only doing squats on leg day!
Another of the “Big Three” lifts, the deadlift is a full body exercise that emphasizes the lower body.
What makes the deadlift a great addition to your routine is the coordinate muscle action required to do the exercise: almost every muscle from the calves to the trapezius are activated, and relatively in coordination with each other throughout the lift.
The deadlift is the only major lift where the maximal exertion is immediate (there’s no unloading and bringing the weight down or into position before the lift) which aids development of explosiveness and muscle coordination described above.
The truth is squats and deadlifts are probably sufficient to develop a strong lower body without needing any other exercises. However, not only are both exhausting, depending on your lifting habits and technique, there is a chance you’re limited by some of your weak points in the squat and deadlift–that could lead to a muscle imbalance.
One of the most common sources of imbalance is the hamstring. All too often, (especially when deadlifts and squats are performed without proper technique) the hamstring muscle is under utilized and underdeveloped relative to the quadriceps. This imbalance can increase the risk of injury.
For this reason, we recommend incorporating some hamstring curls into leg day. This machine is available in most gyms and is an easy way to isolate the hamstrings in case they’ve been under worked by the two “majors”.
Quads are typically worked sufficiently by squats; however, leg extensions are a great way to give your quadriceps a little something extra. Furthermore, if squats are simply wearing you down, replace a few squat sets or repetitions with leg extensions. While no substitute for squats, these quad focused exercises are significantly easier and in conjunction with hamstring curls hit your legs pretty well.
Don’t Neglect Your Legs
Leg day is hard, but it shouldn’t be neglected. If you really struggle to get motivated to hit the legs at the gym, stick to these four exercises, two core, and two assistance. They are all you need to get most of the gains you’d get with a much more complex leg workout and easy enough to adhere to on a regular basis.